Officials of an agricultural ministry branch office leaked undisclosed bid information for farmland restoration and other projects in the Tohoku region to retired employees who had landed jobs with general contractors, according to sources.

Those firms won contracts for many of the projects necessitated due to damage from the tsunami triggered by the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake, the sources said.

The leakage, conducted repeatedly by the officials of the Tohoku Regional Agricultural Administration Office, based in Sendai, could constitute a violation of the Anti-Monopoly Law.

The nation’s anti-monopoly watchdog, the Fair Trade Commission (FTC), has apparently obtained information on the leakage.

According to the sources, officials of the branch office leaked information to its former employees on the criteria the office was using to evaluate companies’ technologies.

They have also handed over documents showing the results of technological evaluations the office conducted when various firms won contracts for projects in the past.

When the branch office accepts bids for projects, it takes into account not only the bidding prices submitted by companies, but also their technological capabilities and other factors.

If companies obtain information on the methods for technological evaluations in advance, they can be advantageous in the bidding process.

The officials of the branch office have also touched up technological proposals to be submitted by the companies.

Staffers have apparently colluded on public works projects with former employees of the office who have joined the firms after retirement.

Projects whose orders are placed by the branch office in relation to the March 2011 disaster are expected to total about 50 billion yen ($453.3 million).

“Companies that obtained information through the retired employees have won contracts for the projects in many cases,” said a source well-versed in the bidding process.

In March 2017, The Asahi Shimbun reported that many of the companies that won contracts for farmland restoration projects had employed retired officials of the branch office. It also reported that those former officials were deeply involved in the bidding process.

In April 2017, the FTC searched the branch office and the general contractors on suspicion that they rigged the project bidding.

In the process of investigating the suspected bid-rigging, the FTC apparently came to know about the information leakage.

As for the leak, the branch office said, “We can’t comment as the FTC is currently investigating the problem.”

An employee of a general contractor said, “Our employee who was a retired employee (of the branch office) received information (from the office). But the information was not so important as to become a decisive factor in winning the bidding.”

(This article was written by Daisuke Yajima and Takashi Ichida, a senior staff writer.)